When an accusation involving a minor is made against an employee, the school principal contacts the student’s parents to review the accusation and investigation process. Depending on the nature of the charges, the school system reports the incident first to the Department of Social Services, then to the Charles County Sheriff’s Office.
“As school employees, we are bound by law to report anything that we think is suspected abuse of a child,” O’Malley-Simpson said. “Any incident that could possibly be child abuse, we have to report immediately.”
The school system also conducts its own investigation once DSS and law enforcement agencies have completed their own investigation, said Melissa Dronsfield, CCPS staff relations case manager.
“We don’t conduct our own administrative investigation until DSS advises we can proceed, as well as the Charles County Sheriff’s Office advises us they have completed their own investigation,” Dronsfield said.
According to information from CCPS, in the 2016-17 school year, there were 21 investigations involving students, and nine investigations that were not related to students.
Dronsfield said an administrative investigation is conducted even if there are no findings from DSS and no charges.
Maryland law requires school systems to keep certificated employees on paid status until all investigations are concluded and the superintendent recommends termination to the board of education. Non-certificated employees are subject to the discretion of the superintendent and her designee, the human resources department, Dronsfield said.
“Our first concern is the safety of students, so once an allegation is made, they are removed from any contact with students, from any school,” O’Malley-Simpson said.
Teaching positions will be filled by long-term substitute teachers, O’Malley-Simpson said.
According to police, Bell was discovered to have sent inappropriate text messages to a student at La Plata High School, where he served as a track coach. When police notified CCPS of an investigation in December
2016, Bell was placed on administrative leave and instructed not to have contact with students or student athletes.
Bell was temporarily reassigned to the Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building — the school system’s headquarters — in January
2017, but was fired when he failed to show up, according to school system information.
If the school system receives reports of criminal charges against employees that do not involve minors, O’Malley-Simpson said any decision to retain or dismiss the employee
will be made on a case by case basis by the Office of Human Resources and the superintendent, with approval from the board of education in the case of teachers and other certificated employees.
The course of the investigations can take months or even a year or more,
If charges are filed, the employee would still remain in their temporary assignment until their case has been adjudicated.
If no charges are filed, or if a not guilty verdict is reached, the employee may return to their original position.
“If everyone agrees it’s unfounded, you probably would return to your position,” O’Malley-Simpson said. “You’d look at it on a case-by-case basis; sometimes it might not be a good thing to send them back to the same school.”